Saturday, October 21, 2023

Anime Weekend Atlanta 2023

It's October and that means it's time for another annual convocation of Atlanta's premier Japanese animation festival, Anime Weekend Atlanta! Every AWA is special, it seems every show's had their own specific vibe. 2023 is no exception; this is the third AWA after the 2020 cancellations, overall the 28th AWA, and this is the twentieth- and final - convention in its present location, the Cobb Galleria Centre and Renaissance Waverly. Yes, that's right, a combination of factors have led the convention to pack it up and head out on the road, Beverly Hillbillies style. 

But first - AWA 2023! Maybe you'll be joining the thirty or thirty-five thousand fellow anime fans at the show, enjoying the full spectrum of anime-con events waiting for you - vendors, guests, concerts, panels, video games, anime screenings, cosplay, raves, maid cafes, gaming, you name it. My advice is to show up early, be prepared for lines, check the Guidebook app for events you're interested in, and maybe check out some of the events I'm doing this year. 

The SUPER HAPPY FUN SELL is AWA's yard-sale-garage-sale-swap-meet event where closets and crawlspaces and spare rooms and storage units and second homes filled with previously loved, unwanted anime merch is resold to new homes, continuing the cycle of consumerism that, ultimately, is what keeps anime spinning. Thursday at 6! 


ANIME HELL remains the most confusing two hours of any anime con experience, as a variety of Japanese cartoon whack-a-doodlery springs forth to amuse and entertain. It's a clip show. Friday at 10pm!


CLASSIC ANIME COPRODUCTIONS is a look into the world of Japanese animation productions that were conceived and financed by American studios. Find out which of your beloved childhood memories was actually animated in Japan, and thrill as I ignore your lifelong favorites! That's Saturday at 4:45pm. 


THE WORLD OF LEIJI MATSUMOTO hops on the Galaxy Express to tour the myriad worlds of this recently departed manga legend. From Legend Of A Honeybee to Interstella 5555, we'll visit just about every stop on the track of this man's groundbreaking, influential career. Sunday at 10:45! 


And of course we can't forget Neil Nadelman's TOTALLY LAME ANIME Friday at 8pm and Ryan Gavigan's MIDNIGHT MADNESS, midnight Friday! 

Anime Weekend Atlanta had a long road to the Galleria. AWA had its first year in 1995 in the now-demolished Castlegate Hotel, a unique Atlanta landmark known for events of every stripe, interiors and exteriors untouched since the 1970s, and a staff with whimsical ideas about cleanliness, security, and contracts. From there the show bounced around Atlanta from the north to the south side and back again, spending two years in Decatur and another two down by Hartsfield Airport, a year in Gwinnett and a year in Perimeter Mall. 


When AWA moved to the Galleria it was liberating: finally the convention had room to grow, space to move, and a location convenient for parking, shopping, hotels, and all the other benefits of suburbia while remaining (barely) within Atlanta's interstate 285, which marks the unofficial boundary between "Atlanta" proper and the hinterlands "Outside The Perimeter."

The Galleria itself was a northside Atlanta landmark, a peak 1980s upscale shopping mall full of boutique shops, luxury goods, an 8-screen AMC theater, and a space station themed arcade complete with hissing airlock doors and Apple II's for rent. If you were an 80s teen in the area you likely found yourself there on a Friday or Saturday night meeting friends to catch a movie or play some video games. 


The outward shock wave of suburban development moved through and passed beyond the area and the 1990s found the shine rubbing off many of the neighborhood's 80s dreams. The Galleria started to lose tenants; without an anchor store there really wasn't a reason to go there if you didn't happen to be catching a movie. Who opens a ski shop in Atlanta, anyways? In 1994 the Cobb-Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority completed the Cobb Galleria Centre, a complex of convention halls and meeting rooms adjacent to and integrated with the Galleria shopping mall, which was purchased outright by the Authority in 2000. Connected to the Renaissance Waverly, this became one of Atlanta's best destinations for mid-sized expos and conferences. Which, as the new century dawned, turned out to be a category that included anime conventions. Over the next two decades AWA watched the area rebound as malls were revitalized, new developments arose, and a new generation of metro Atlantans moved from the outer exurbs back towards and into the city. AWA's growth paralleled that of the city itself, bustling, traffic-choked, always angling for new alternatives for everything. 


One of those new alternatives came in 2017 when the Atlanta Braves moved from downtown's Turner Field - yes, named for Braves owner Ted Turner - to the new Truist Park, located in Cobb less than a mile from the Galleria. What was once a pleasant if sometimes overlooked backwater became a hot new zip code as new hotels, retail, and restaurants surrounded the ball field, connected to the Galleria by a pedestrian bridge across I-285. 


As a fall convention, AWA found itself competing for parking and hotel space with legions of late-season playoff Braves fans; suddenly AWA was in the big leagues, in more ways than one. Braves traffic and parking woes were a fact of life for the post-COVID Anime Weekends. Convention organizers weren't sure if fans would be returning to in-person conventions after the pandemic, but as it turned out returning to conventions was number one on everybody's list, and it seems like they brought their friends. What was once a cavernous empty hall now teemed with fans, what was once acres of free parking started to fill up Thursday afternoon at $10 a day. Increasingly AWA's attendees and staff began to wonder how long the Galleria and the Waverly could sustain this pressure. Would the convention finally join the ranks of other conventions and move to downtown Atlanta? Yes it would and yes it did. The convention is moving downtown. Partially because of space issues, but also because AWA has no choice. 


Next year the Cobb Galleria Centre is undergoing a makeover; the remaining retail space will be demolished and converted to more convention space and a new hotel will be going up in the northwest corner of the parking lot. Unless you enjoy cosplaying in a construction site (and you may! No shame!) the place to be in 2024 for AWA will be the World Congress Center downtown. 

I'm going to miss the Galleria. It's close to where I grew up and it looms large in my adolescent memories of goofing off on weekends wandering between malls and shopping centers, getting carded trying to get into R rated films, spending my allowance in the 2001 arcade. Little did I suspect eventually I'd help to wrangle twenty or thirty thousand anime nerds through the food court where I used to kill time before wandering over to Midnight Movies at the Akers Mill General Cinema (also demolished). Not that downtown Atlanta doesn't hold its share of memories for me, because it definitely does. Maybe we'll get to make some new ones there next year. See you in 2024! 

-Dave Merrill

1 comment:

Stephen T said...

Ah, I wondered about the reasoning behind the move (and didn't make it to the end of opening ceremonies); thanks for the additional context! And, as always, enjoy reading your nostalgia tinged ruminations on years of Atlanta past.